|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Thursday, November 11, 2004
Contra Costa Times 11-11-04
Education gurus offer ways to fix funding
OAKLAND - Put 200 education reformers in one room, give them a topic -- say, school funding -- and let simmer four hours.
The result: a slew of political and local solutions, plenty of pithy comments, and untold scorn heaped upon California's convoluted system for funding public schools.
"It's the Winchester Mystery House of finance, a structure no one would design from scratch, but we add another room at great expense every year," state Assemblyman Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, told an appreciative crowd at an education summit Wednesday.
Mills College played host to a who's who of education insiders, from former state superintendent of public instruction Delaine Eastin to Oakland's state-appointed schools administrator Randolph Ward and Acalanes trustee and West Ed Chief Financial Officer Richard Whitmore.
The group had gathered to suggest a fix for California's school funding system, which distributes vastly different amounts of money to different districts through an arcane calculation that is not based on need. Average per-pupil funding in California is $1,000 below the national average of $8,000 or more -- and $3,000 to $4,000 below the biggest-spending states.
"Education finance in this state is so convoluted that no one can understand it and no one can explain it," said state Sen. Dede Alpert, D-San Diego. "School finance should be able to be explained at a Rotary Club meeting."
"You cannot patch this wheel. We need to throw out the existing system and start over," said Stanford education professor Michael Kirst, who served on the state board of education from 1975 to 1981.
Some of the recommendations that emerged were familiar. One proposal was to fund schools directly and not route the money through district headquarters. Another proposal was to give schools a flat fee per student, with add-ons for services that cost more to provide, including special education, English language instruction and compensation for certain socio-economic factors.
Education Secretary Richard Riordan touted both ideas last year, but he wasn't at the summit.
Ward and other panelists talked about what they called the "800-pound gorillas": the changes wrought by 1978's Proposition 13, the limitations of union contracts and the desires of special interests.
"It isn't about more money," Ward said. "The gorilla is the lack of accountability. The gorilla is contracts that have nothing to do with students, the waste in the bureaucracy."
"And Papa State is the best example of all," Ward continued. "If you don't have efficiency, you won't ever, ever have enough (money)."
The panelists noted that a 300-member team led by Alpert spent four years creating a master plan for K-12 education, modeled on California's 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education. That effort must be revived, panelists said, not reinvented in the form of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's California Performance Review.
A key recommendation that emerged Wednesday was to press Schwarzenegger to appoint the Quality Education Commission created by the new plan. That commission's task is to form a clear picture of what constitutes an adequate education and how much it costs to provide that.
The performance review met with universal disdain at Wednesday's gathering. Eastin, who organized the summit, called the review "a dog's breakfast."
"In a matter of a few hours, we made more substantive recommendations than CPR," she said.
Eastin plans to hold similar summits across the state. Each meeting will
produce recommendations, and she plans to send all the ideas to legislators
and other officials.
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